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Friday, September 2, 2011

TURKEY - THE ARRIVAL

CORRECTION

TRY is not the correct symbol for Turkish Lira. For some reason, it is TRY. Hence, I am TRYing to use TRY instead. If I accidentally use the wrong symbol, please TRY to deal with it.



TURKEY, THE ARRIVAL

Coming into eastern Turkey, I was struck by how brown everything is. The people are brown, the earth is brown, the hay that seems to be the only crop is brown as well. Well, at least the Turks don't have to pay for expensive tanning 'treatments'. Lucky. [Disclaimer: The land turned green once I left eastern Turkey. This does not mean the people did as well. Though that would have been interesting.]

Two thoughts struck me as we entered in to Turkey. First, it was like we were climbing up the inside of a big, brown bowl. The second was that whoever said something about the roads being better as soon as they entered Turkey from Georgia was full of shit. The buses were better, true, but the roads were still crap.

Eastern Turkey has a lot of wild and remote places as we wound our way through.

At one point, the bus made an unannounced stop. About half of the passengers leapt out. I didn't know what the hell was going on but the people didn't look alarmed or anything so I just sat and waited it out. After about two minutes everyone who had gotten out quickly resumed their seats and we were off again. It turns out there was a 'holy spring' there and they had anointed themselves at it. I couldn't help wondering if it was hose fed, like the one in Georgia.

On the bus, I met a Swiss girl named Mary Ann. To the question of if she had her Swiss Army Knife on her the answer was 'Of course!'. Reference my earlier blog entry on it.

Turns out that she had a place she wanted to try staying at named the Gungoren Hotel. I didn't really have any firm plans so we agreed to share a room. Prices there were 40 TRY for a single The double room started at 80 TRY but if you objected they quickly dropped to 70 TL. Through hard bargaining we managed to get them to 55 TRY. Everything in Turkey is negotiable.

It was a so so place. Not bad, not especially good. Mary Ann liked the breakfast. I thought it was some cold, nasty shit I didn't want to eat. I got breakfast at a grocery store. The laundry at this 'hotel' (I'll be nice and give it one or two stars) is an amazing 2 TRY for a single shirt. WTF. I had written that it might be Cappadocia before I got clean clothing. I had no idea I would be on the money with that. The English spoken by the staff was abysmally bad and got worse if they didn't want to understand you. Personally, I wouldn't recommend the hotel to anyone.

My initial plan had been to see Ani, then sleep in Kars then see Kars the next day then sleep again taking off the day after. After wandering around Kars a little bit (and remembering my earlier research) I decided their was nothing I wanted to see in Kars so I decided to cut my visit there short. This left Mary Ann in a bit of a lurch with the room but she is stubborn and decided to stay anyway.

To save money, she was initially talking about hitchhiking out to Ani and back but she decided to just spend the 35 TRY and go out with the group. She didn't believe three hours to see the ruins of Ani were enough. I figured the guide had taken out enough tourists over the last seven years he'd been doing it to know how long they usually took. The guide mollified her by saying they'd delay the bus back an extra half hour if need be.



TO THE LOST CITY OF ANI

The drive through Kars confirmed my earlier opinion of it and my complete disinterest in seeing any more of the city. The tour guide himself was very cool and let me bring my backpack. He said they'd drop me off at the bus station so I could get on to where I was wanting to go after Ani.

The highway to Ani was pretty deserted. I think getting there via hitchhiking would be pretty rough. Tourist buses were the only ones who were going there and the one we were in did not stop for hitchhikers. It is probably possible to hitchhike back with a tour company but if you paid to get out there, you've paid for a round trip already - might as well use it.

I did the walk through Ani, leaving the group far behind. It was pretty cool. I'm glad I chose to wear my disintegrating shoes rather than my flip flops for it. There was some light climbing involved and plenty of feet hazards.

Ani really didn't strike me emotionally at all - it was ruins. No really nifty carvings on anything. There was a couple of interesting ruins (see Ani photographs) and a very nice panorama shot of a river in a canyon. That was about it really worth mentioning. I am glad I went but wouldn't visit it again.

I made it through Ani in about an hour - the others, say two and a half hours. My goal wasn't to sprint through Ani but unless something has 'intrinsic interest', I simply don't care. In other words, if there is a pile of rubble that was until one hundred years ago the most significant building in this part of the world, I don't care. I'd rather see something interesting now. If I have to read about it to be impressed by it, I don't really care that much. I call this 'intrinsic coolness'. Ani had some but there was a lot of stuff that wasn't as well. Be advised that the amount of time you spend in travel from Kars to Ani will equal or exceed the amount of time you spend in Kars itself. It's worth seeing if you are close but I wouldn't make a detour to catch it. Again, I'm happy I went - perhaps because it was my first 'lost city'.

It was interesting. On the way to Ani, the other tourists in the bus were much more excited and talkative than on the way back. They looked bored and frustrated. I am thinking Ani may not have touched them in a special way.

Also, unless your kids can climb small rocky hills, I don't advise bringing them. I saw some people dragging in a stroller and I wondered how the fuck they would manage with that.

Through making videos and pictures, I managed to drain my camera. The border guards served me tea and cake while we hung out in the guard shack recharging it. We hung out in the 'no smoking' shack and exchanged cigarettes and smoked.

It seems that from an early age, people living near tourist areas work at making money off of the tourists. Kids ran out bottles of cold water for 1 TRY. I had brought my own. But it was interesting to see the capitalist system working so hard. In fact, on my travels through Turkey I have been mentally classifying people into one of two groups - those who are looking to make some money off of me and those who aren't. Both groups can contain nice people but knowing at the end of the day someone wondering how much money they can make off of you does color your dealings with them.

After everyone had been sitting in the bus and waiting for awhile, Mary Ann (the Swiss lady) showed up and said she was right - three hours and some was not enough for her to significantly plumb the depths of Ani. I gave her the traditional goodbye I had learned in Hungary of "See ya!" and we got underway back to Kars. She was an interesting person but our traveling styles were too different. I was happy to get out on my own quickly. Well, at least I saved a few Lira off of the first night's lodgings.

On the way back from Ani, we saw three hay carts parked on the highway. No people, no horses - just a hay cart. I thought 'My, what an extraordinarily dangerous and stupid place to leave a huge, over packed hay cart!'

The slick person who had hooked us up with the ride out to Ani is named "Celil Ersozoglu". I'm naming him as a good contact within Kars because he was personally standing there at the bus station when we pulled up. He made sure I had enough water, walked with me to get a cheep kabob and got me onto the bus. It was like clockwork. I'd recommend him as a personal guide if you can afford it. I don't imagine someone that good comes cheap.

Because I wanted to do all of my 'due diligence', I tried to check to see if it was possible to go straight to Cappadocia (Goreme). No, I was told it wasn't. So I purchased a 15 TRY ticket for Erzuru. From there it would be other transfers and such to get me to Kahta. After Ani, my desire to go to Nemrut Dagai had been much quenched but I figured if I couldn't get a ticket to Cappadocia and could to Kahta, what the hell, I'd go with the flow.

The road to Erzuru wound around and followed a river. Everything (except the people) got much greener.

At the Erzuru bus station I was introduced to the concept of 'free' translators. These eager young men (all men) would leap to helping you with your ticket. I believe that it does increase the price of the ticket but since I was tired and confused, I was OK with having my ticket price raised 5-10 TRY for some guy to sort through all of the crap at this chaotic bus station. I interviewed my 'tauter' Ferhat. He has worked at this job since he was 14-15 years old. A good day of hustling can get him about 25 TRY. He is currently going to university to study tourism. There are a lot of these guys with very rough English.

I consulted with the bus people on what would be needed to get to the Nemrut Dagi and it turned out to be five or six difficult waiting for new dolmuĊŸ every time. For hours. I asked myself "Just how bad do I want to see these giant heads?" The answer - not that goddamn much. I envy Adam and his ease of the truck.

So, I decided to make a break for Cappadocia. He detailed an easy route that took me to Kayseri. I asked how much it was to go to there and was told sixty lira.

I told Ferhat I needed to get some more money from an ATM. For some reason, they had no ATM's at the Erzuru bus station. I went to the one directed but the screen was in direct sunlight for god knows how many years, hence that didn't work either. The next one was a one kilometer round trip. Or further. But I got the money. By the time I got back, the bus I was going to leave on had split so I had to go to Ankora instead.

He quoted a price of sixty again till I yelled that is what he had quoted to go to the further away place of Kayseri. In the next breath dropped the price to fifty. Everything is negotiable. Every price has been inflated as a built in stupidity check. Try not to fail it.

So, I had him take me to where the bus was to show up. At the appointed time, it utterly failed to materialize. One of the other 'tauters' did instead. They seem to work as a team. He had two unhappy looking tourists with him. He informed me it was time to go on a taxi ride. I said 'Will it cost me anything'. I was told it wouldn't. So, we drove with an old taxi driver out into the middle of nowhere. And waited.

Rather than being killed for my meager loot, a bus showed up and we all got on.

Next time - the bus to Goreme!



GENERAL OPINIONS OF TURKEY

If you don't enjoy or at least tolerate bargaining/haggling, you won't like Turkey.

I've been classifying people I've met into two flavors. The people that are wanting money from me and those that aren't expecting it. Both can be nice but knowing someone is wanting to make a buck (lira) off of you does tend to color the relationship.



TRAVELER'S LORE

(From Mary Ann) She recommends buying a silk sleeping bag. It is a sleeping bag shaped piece of silk you can sleep inside of on those scary occasions when you don't want to touch the bed or the sheets. It packs down to the size and weight of a shirt. Seems like a good investment to me - I'll keep an eye open. Unless I forget about it. Again.



COSTS

Round trip to Ani (getting dropped off there, no tour) 35 TRY.
Entrance to Ani, 5 TRY.

Locals advise avoiding the water in Turkey.

Be advised that when you buy transportation (and possibly even a tour) the chances of you getting the suave, erudite person with you who sold you the tour are slim. You will probably get one of their flunkies who may or may not know anything and may or may not speak English. Verify this strongly in advance if you are basing the tour strictly on spending time with the person selling it.

Gas prices in Turkey, 4.40 TRY per liter. Stop yer bitching, America. After conversion, it's $9.55 per gallon here. And the taxis are still so much less.

Cheap kabob, 2.5 TRY. Super-sized kabob, 4 TRY.

Bottle of 'very nice' red Turkish wine, brewed in Cappadocia region, 20 TRY. (Note, this is the same price as Georgian wine. I like both but I am not a 'wine snob'. I did decide to try one purely for 'scientific research'.)

"Turkish night" - some restaurant offers this cultural experience of observing dancing as well as eating and drinking (alcohol) as much as you can hold - 75 TRY. Considered a 'good deal' in alcohol alone. It's a 'go get plastered' night. Eight to eleven or midnight depending on the guests. This sounds like an interesting thing I will probably try out.

.75 TRY to use a disgusting bathroom.



TURKISH CUSTOMS

Using scented alcohol to clean the hands and face is a common occurrence.

Some buses have a buzzer that goes off when a certain speed is passed. Most don't. Hope for one that doesn't have such a buzzer. You're going to have many close calls and near death experiences anyway. You might as well get there a little faster.

The driver of the bus enjoys certain privilages that the passengers and other people working on the bus do not. They may smoke when they wish, play music and so on. Other passengers may not. This is odd to me, but if it keeps him awake, great.

The price of everything - including bus tickets is negotiable.



PHILOSOPHY

I don't mind paying for stuff if I'm enjoying it - but if I'm thinking 'meh', I am happy to 'fast forward' to the next good bit.



VIDEOS

Ani first view

Ani smoking view

Goreme intro

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PICTURES

{{2011}} London, GB | Rail N Sail | Amsterdam, Netherlands | Prague, Czech Republic | Budapest, Hungary | Sarajevo, Bosnia | Romania | Chisinau, Moldova | Ukraine: Odessa - Sevastopol | Crossed Black Sea by ship | Georgia: Batumi - Tbilisi - Telavi - Sighnaghi - Chabukiani | Turkey: Kars - Lost City of Ani - Goreme - Istanbul | Jordan: Amman - Wadi Rum | Israel | Egypt: Neweiba - Luxor - Karnak - Cairo | Thailand: Bangkok - Pattaya - Chaing Mai - Chaing Rei | Laos: Luang Prabang - Pakse | Cambodia: Phnom Penh | Vietnam: Vung Tau - Saigon aka Ho Chi Minh City

{{2012}} Cambodia: Kampot - Sihanoukville - Siem Reap - Angkor Wat | Thailand: Bangkok | India: Rishikesh - Ajmer - Pushkar - Bundi - Udaipur - Jodhpur - Jasalmer - Bikaner - Jaipur - Agra - Varanasi | Nepal: Kathmandu - Chitwan - Pokhara - Bhaktapur - (Rafting) - Dharan | India: Darjeeling - Calcutta Panaji | Thailand: Bangkok - again - Krabi Town | Malaysia, Malaka | Indonesia: Dumas - Bukittinggi - Kuta - Ubud - 'Full Throttle' - Gili Islands - Senggigi | Cambodia: Siem Reap | Thailand: Trat | Turkey: Istanbul | Georgia: Tbilisi

{{2013}} Latvia: Riga | Germany: Berlin | Spain: Malaga - Grenada | Morocco: Marrakech - Essauira - Casablanca - Chefchawen - Fes | Germany: Frankfurt | Logan's Home Invasion USA: Virginia - Michigan - Indiana - Illinois - Illinois - Colorado | Guatemala: Antigua - San Pedro | Honduras: Copan Ruinas - Utila | Nicaragua: Granada | Colombia: Cartagena | Ecuador: Otavalo - Quito - Banos - Samari (a spa outside of Banos) - Puyo - Mera

{{2014}} Peru: Lima - Nasca - Cusco | Dominican Republic | Ukraine: Odessa | Bulgaria: Varna - Plovdiv | Macedonia: Skopje - Bitola - Ohrid - Struga | Albania: Berat - Sarande | Greece: Athens | Italy: Naples - Pompeii - Salerno | Tunisia: Hammamet 1

{{2015}} Hammamet 2 | South Africa: Johnnesburg | Thailand: Hua Hin - Hat Yai | Malaysia: Georgetown | Thailand: Krabi Town | Indonesia:
Sabang Island | Bulgaria: Plovdiv | Romania: Ploiesti - Targu Mures | Poland: Warsaw | Czech Republic: Prague | Germany: Munich | Netherlands: Groningen | England: Slough | Thailand: Ayutthaya - Khon Kaen - Vang Vieng | Cambodia: Siem Reap

{{2016}} Thailand: Kanchanaburi - Chumphon | Malaysia: Ipoh - Kuala Lumpur - Kuching - Miri | Ukraine: Kiev | Romania: Targu Mures - Barsov | Morocco: Tetouan

{{2017}} Portugal: Faro | USA: Virginia | Michigan | Illinois | Colorado |

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